Yes, but…

The Buddhist view that strong attachments contribute to misery can seem to lead to a life in some ways higher in its purposes.  The amount of angst that can accompany a scratch on a new car or a bad referee’s report hardly seems to improve one’s life, right?  And perhaps for many people, it is easy to feel that having children is just too hard.  So I am far from wanting to laugh at the following quotes attributed to the Dalai Lama.

Still, it is stunning to find a list of reasons with which one agrees and a conclusion one’s whole life has  rejected.

The titile:  Sexual intercourse spells trouble, says Dalai Lama

Conjugal life causes too many “ups and downs”, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader told reporters in a Lagos hotel.

“Sexual pressure, sexual desire, actually, I think is short-period satisfaction and, often, that leads to more complication,” he said.

“Naturally as a human being…some kind of desire for sex comes, but then you use human intelligence to make comprehension that those relationships are always full of trouble.”

Problems arising from conjugal life could even lead to suicide or murder, the Dalai Lama warned. …

“Too much attachment towards your children, towards your partner,” was “one of the obstacles or hindrances of peace of mind,” he said.

I guess the thing that is causing my sense of amazement is that though people seem frequently to say – or to agree to – the claim that close sexual relaitonships have a lot of ups and downs, that isn’t usually considered a reason for not getting into any at all. 

And that makes me think that the  perspective from which it is a good reason contains alternatives not easily available to many of  us.  It is a life, the Dalai Lama says, with more independence and freedom, but those may also require a context before they are the full basis for a life. 

What do you think?

16 thoughts on “Yes, but…

  1. I’d have to say that the link is hardly a news article — several ‘paragraphs’ of one sentence each, likely taken out of context of a larger discussion of the concept of nonattachment. Unless one is truly knowledgeable of this Buddhist concept, it is hard to make a valid comment.

  2. 2sisters:

    If you look at the post, I do say that there’s a perspective needed to make sense of the comments that is not now available to many of us.

    The source I gave doesn’t seem peculiarly terse; the story as they give it is now all over the world. It seems to have originated with the AFP. Here’s a sampling of sources:,7449,0,0,1,0

  3. I have been single for nearly 24 years and have been consistently happier than I was in marriage and relationships. I don’t miss sex but then, again, I’m post menopausal so any biologically-based urging is long gone. The emotional and psychological urgings have almost always cost me too high of a price. Then, there is the problem that we women are constructed (at least to a certain degree) to understand our value as a human person to derive from being sexually attractive and useful to men (heterosexually speaking) which is not to say that sex is not pleasurable but then lots of things are. So I can understand the excerpted argument from the Dali Lama.

  4. Recently, I went to a free yoga class with a friend, and was talking with the monk who led the class afterwards. (It was in a Buddhist temple). He was saying the same thing, that relationships and attachments cause suffering, and it’s best to be unattached. I’m sure there’s more to it, but it seems strange to me. It seems you would miss out either way. I would want a balance; to not have super idealistic expectations for a relationship while still having a close bond with someone.

  5. After 27 years of “conjugal life,” I’m hoping for another 27 years or so. Poor Dalai Lama.

  6. jj

    Words can be ambiguous. I had read your post jj but did not interpret “the perspective from which it is a good reason contains alternatives not easily available to many of us” in the way you intended. Thanks for the clarification.

    Personally, I can’t imagine being without a long-term intimacy with a partner, though I know I would adjust if I were to find myself in that circumstance. I like to believe myself capable of learning new responses, attenuating my needs, and still being ‘happy’.

    On the other hand, I have no reason to doubt or disrespect the veracity of the Dalai Lama’s experience. With a Buddhist perspective on egolessness and nowness, it makes sense that one could be content without a sexual life by virtue of the transitory nature of existence. The suffering to which he refers, dukkha, does not refer just to agony of the body but a deep, subtle sense of dissatisfaction which Buddhists believe is the essence of life.

  7. I’ve been very impressed by the ideas of the Dalai Lama in the past. And all religions are not the same for sure. There are, like people, good ones, bad ones, reasonable, humane ones, stupid ones. But this aspect of Budhism always seemed to strike me as just not seeing the forest for the trees. Ignoring sex/relationships with passion because they can and do cause pain is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Having children is hard, takes a lot of energy and causes much frustration. But to decide not to have a child forever based on just that seems a shame. Relationships with passion can be and often are difficult, cause us anger, sadness,etc. but if we are in one with a person who’s willing to work together with us and we overcome conflicts, find answers or ones we can live with and enjoy our partners, life is so very much better. And the most important part is finding the right one/s to be involved with. Many aren’t adept at this. Men tend to go through people too quickly. Women tend to stay too long with people who aren’t right for them.
    But giving up the battle is, I think, a way to lose out on some of the best that life has to offer. As a therapist working with many couples, I see both of these scenarios all the time. It’s interesting that Budhism, like most other religions was begun and is led by men. The idea of detachment is something, I think, that has more appeal to men but I can see females, who have just given up and/or rejected sex as buying into it as well.
    Life is complicated because we are. We can ignore parts of life that are difficult if we choose to. But, I think we can live life more fully when we don’t let fear rule how we live.

  8. 2sisters, sorry if I sounded defensive. Mr. jj has been remarking about my complicated sentences. :(

    Your explanation makes an important contribution to the discussion.

  9. I read the Dalai Lama’s comments as a reminder to keep things in perspective. I do find value in not getting too “attached,” I think this is quite healthy. And if something bad happens to a love one, heaven forbid, your world is not completely destroyed because you are able to find meaning in life outside of emotional attachment.

    I don’t choose to give up attachments, but I do see the danger in letting them consume you. And if you can practice a certain amount of nonattachment, I think it will bring mutual respect to your relationships (with a partner, child, etc.), allowing each person autonomy and the freedom to be themselves. Practicing nonattachment also gives you the ability to ride out the “ups and downs” without taking them seriously when they need not be. It allows you to value the person, rather than the attachment.

  10. I’m not clear how the discussion moved from sexual intercourse and those kinds of relationships discussed by the Dalai Lama to relationships with children, even given that without the former, there would be no kids. But is this really all the same? Relationships with lovers involve expectations that therapists find dysfunctional when expected from one’s children. I just didn’t see the move from sexual relationships to commitment to children. What did I miss, besides they are all relationships with other human persons?

  11. Anon, I think you may have forgotten that he mentioned children in the last line. The connection is the DL’s.

  12. To me, these quotes from the Dalai Lama point to another way of living: Single by choice. My experience with the ups and downs has led me to choose to be single. Granted my ups were really high and my downs really low but, still, I do not recall having been in a relationship where I was as consistently happy as I am now as a single. This is not “giving up the battle,” though, it’s a conscious choice to create the life that is most rewarding to me. I don’t like that he seems to imply that being single is somehow better, more enlightened if you will, but I do like the idea that it is a valid option. I think we need to get away from being couple-centric and viewing being in a relationship (preferably the married kind) as the ultimate goal (and being single as an inferior, cop-out option). However, it’s not a good idea to replace that with some kind of idea of the superiority of being single. These are just two ways of being and most of us will move between them throughout our lives.

    I don’t doubt that the quotes are from the Dalai Lama because they are consistent with other Buddhist teachings that I have read that commented on the amount of energy wasted during the sexual act. Yes, that does sound almost like the teachings of the Catholic church during the Middle Ages. I always try to remember when I read quotes like this that these men are monks: They have to live celibate and thus come up with rationalizations on why they don’t miss out… I wonder how much of their “wisdom” is driven by that…

    I don’t think that Buddhism is much different than other religions. If you think it’s more peaceful, I invite you to read “Zen at War,” a rather scary recounting of the intertwining of Buddhism with the various imperial wars of Japan. It also recounts how Zen, in particular, has been marketed here in the US (by leaving out all the war-mongering).

  13. What’s so bad about “ups and downs”? It may be bad if the ‘downs’ outweigh the ‘ups’, of course, but an impassioned (if variable) life doesn’t strike me as an intrinsically bad thing. (Quite the opposite, in fact. Better to have ups and downs than bland nothingness, no?)

    I would agree that it’s silly to feel angst about “a scratch on a new car”, but that’s because scratches on cars are not really worth caring about. But there are things in life that very much are worth caring passionately about (e.g. people, talents), so I think the Buddhist perspective is seriously misguided if it denies this.

  14. Richard, of course in some sense i agree, but I’m concerned that someone as ignorant as I am about Buddhism shouldn’t have written about the DL’s remarks.

    The last para of comment #6 might be especially worth paying some attention. He isn’t really thinking about our ordinary life but missing commitment, etc. Egolessness enables a compassion that is deep, I believe.

    Perhaps he has done what zen masters are said to do: say something that seems obviously true or clearly false and then leave it us to up to find out why it might be much more than that.

    So perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea to write about this, if he isn’t really talking about adding or subtracting features from our lives, or at least not about just doing that. That is, maybe there’s something here we don’t yet understand. That’s quite exciting.

  15. I’m not sure there is anything in the DL’s comments which suggest abstaining from relationships completely, though that is common practice for Buddhist monks and nuns.

    Traditionally in Buddhism, abstinence is not for lay people. Though it’s not clear from the news article, from other Buddhist teachings I can surmise that his words are simply a warning. It is possible to have healthy relationships (i.e. free of attachment) as long as we are doing it mindfully. This applies to partners, children, parents, etc.

    The so-called dangers he warns about are things like getting too attached in terms of being controlling or possessive, basically having one’s identity tied up with a particular relationship. These things are what cause the ups and downs. If we could be more mindful of our relationships from moment to moment, then perhaps we could reduce or even eliminate the roller coaster of emotions that seem to accompany strong attachments.

    So it is possible and quite necessary to have relationships (for lay people). I think what the DL is suggesting is that we do so from non-attachment (i.e. without ego).

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